By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — In a disturbing mirror image of the worsening political atmosphere, violence has once again crept onto the Northern agenda with four separate bombings of Catholic homes and ominous warnings from a Progressive Unionist Party official that the Republic, and possibly tourists, could be attacked if the peace process breaks down.
Two Catholic homes in the mainly Protestant town of Larne, Co. Antrim, were bombed at the weekend, and a Catholic family living in the village of Loughinisland, Co. Down, was also targeted, with one man slightly injured.
On Monday night, a Catholic family who live in a predominantly Protestant part of Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim, was also attacked. A pipe bomb was discovered under their car. They escaped injury.
Sinn Fein has warned nationalists to be vigilant. Republicans believe the loyalist plan is to force the IRA to break its cease-fire.
The Red Hand Defenders admitted responsibility for the Larne bombings, which took place in the early hours of Saturday morning. At each house, a loud explosion was heard — although damage was minor.
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One of the families targeted had already lost a member in a loyalist shooting in 1993. Robert Shaw was shot dead by the UFF/UDA as he sat in a van on the shores of Belfast Lough. His elderly mother was in the house that was attacked on Saturday.
In the County Down attack, a man was injured in the arm and body at his home in Loughinisland. He said he believed the Loyalist Volunteer Force was responsible. The village is where six Catholic men were shot dead in 1994 as they watched Ireland playing Italy in the World Cup in New York. Patrick Shields’s wrist was broken and he was cut and bruised in his groin.
Both republicans and loyalists believe there is cross membership between the LVF and the Orange Volunteers, who claimed responsibility for the attack, but a former double-life-sentence prisoner-turned- pastor, Kenny McClinton, who often speaks for the LVF, denied the claims.
The PUP’s spokesman, David Ervine, said LVF members were in the Orange Volunteers, whom he described as a strange mix of "redneck" religious fundamentalists and drug dealers.
The Orange Volunteers are a shadowy group who have attacked Catholic families in counties Derry, Armagh and Down, claiming to be defending loyalists against a sellout by the British government and the unionist leadership.
In November, the group threatened to kill all released IRA prisoners — and in the week before Christmas its members mounted a gun and bomb attack on a Catholic farming family living in County Derry.
The same night, the loyalists bombed a Catholic bar near the village of Crumlin, Co. Antrim, and a week later it’s believed they were responsible for a grenade attack on a Catholic family in Armagh city.
On Jan. 6, they claimed responsibility for planting an explosive device that injured a man working on a new clubhouse at a GAA grounds in Magherafelt, Co. Derry.
In a separate development, Billy Hutchinson of the PUP, which has links to the Ulster Volunteer Force, told the Belfast Telegraph on Thursday that unionists risked another Anglo Irish Agreement if the Good Friday Agreement collapsed under the weight of the decommissioning demand.
Loyalists would not accept that, he said, and irrespective of republican violence, they themselves would inevitably be dragged back into violence. Hutchinson said loyalists would try to cripple the Republic.
"It is very easy to attack bloodstock and it is very easy to attack tourists," Hutchinson said. "There would be a greater threat from loyalism than there has in the past. Asked if this could mean attacks on tourists like those recently in the Middle East, Hutchinson responded, "Obviously, that is the way it could turn out."